Race, ethnicity and crime
Race, ethnicity and crime

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Race, ethnicity and crime

Case study: Racial disproportion in the US

Deborah Peterson Small is Executive Director of Break the Chains, a small non-profit advocacy organisation working towards the reform of drug policy in the US. In this short video clip, she discusses the greater probability of a Black or Latino person being arrested for a drug-related offence than a White person, despite the fact that the different ethnic groups consume and trade in drugs at comparable rates. She unpacks the consequences of this disproportionate likelihood of being drawn into the criminal justice system both on individuals, and their families and communities.

Watch the video below now.

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Transcript: Racial disproportion in the US

Deborah Peterson Small
… Just this week, Human Rights Watch issued a report about racial disparities in drug arrest. And, basically, the report showed that for the last 27 years – since 1980 – the rate of Black arrests has been disproportionately higher than White arrests for drugs, ranging from 2.7 times more likely to the current average of more than five or six times more likely. And if you go from arrest to imprisonment, you know, for the past 20 years we’ve enforced a policy that results in Black people being ten times more likely to end up in prison for a drug offence than White people, even though we use drugs, and sell drugs, at the same comparable rates. And, to me, the harms are so duplicate – there’s so many – it has a lot to do with economic opportunity. A lot of the people who – especially who are young, who are selling drugs and doing it because those were the only jobs that they can get, once you’ve been convicted of a drug offence you no longer can get any other job, even if you get out of prison, you know, you’re banned from other jobs, you’re not able to get access to education, so you’re basically stigmatised for life. We have thousands of Black and Latino men, who have basically been pushed out of society – permanently – as a result of their involvement in drugs, which means that they’re not able to be good fathers to their children, to be good partners to the women and the mothers, the people in their lives. It means that the kids don’t benefit from having that, the women don’t have the kind of support that they would need, you know, it – the ripple effect across the community is rampant. But to me the most long term negative effect of the ‘War on Drugs’ is the fact that it’s created a perception in the public that the average Black man is a drug user, or a drug seller, either currently involved in criminal activity or will be involved in criminal activity. Unless they have the clean-cut look of an Obama, they’re assumed to be criminal. And that assumption, that starts early on when they are still in school, creates a set of circumstances that almost determines the reality. And I’ve seen so many young men who’ve ended up in a path that they wouldn’t have been on if they weren’t constantly being reminded by policing practices, by school disciplinary policies etc. that people think they’re bad. You know, and so to me, that is one of the most negative, you know, both immediate and long term consequences that I’ve seen of what we’ve been doing.
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Racial disproportion in the US
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